California Council for the Humanities

California Stories Initiative

Years of Valor, Years of Hope

Tulare County and the Years 1941-1946

Tulare County Library

The Friends of the Tulare County Library

And the Tulare County Historical Society

Interviews in 2003-2004

Interviewee: Luis Medina


Date of Interview: 17 February 2004

Tape Number 41


Interviewer: Tania Martell


Place of interview: Visalia


Interpreter/Translator-Transcriber: Benjamin Hernandez, State Certified Spanish Interpreter

Places where Mr. Medina lived during 1941 to 1946: Mexico City, Montana, Lemon Cove and Visalia.

Subjects covered in the interview: The Bracero program, immigration.

TM: Today is February 17, 2004. I am here in the home of Mr. Medina, former bracero in Visalia, as part of the Tulare Oral History Project called "Years of Valor, Years of Hope, Tulare County and the years 1941-1946." Also present are Mr. Medina’s son, Luis Medina, Jr., his wife (Clemencia Aviatia Medina), and an interpreter, Ben Hernandez, who is going to translate the questions and later is going to transcribe and translate the tape of Mr. Medina’s answers from Spanish to English.

BH: Yes.

TM: Okay. So what is your full name and when were you born, Mr. Medina?

LM: I was born in 1918, the 19th of December of 1918.

TM: And who were your parents?

LM: Eduardo Medina and Dolores Medina.

TM: Where did you grow up?

LM: In Mexico .

TM: And how old were you when World War II started?

LM: I was 25.

TM: And were you married; did you have children?

LM: No, no.

TM: How did you hear about the war and the United States entering the war?

LM: Well, when I first was in Mexico , I crossed over to here. First in May of 1943, I came here. I entered here around 12 noon. And from there they took us to -- to -- what’s it called? What’s it called? I forget.

LM Jr: Montana, dad.[1]

LM: Montana. I was taken to Montana. They took us to Montana and got us down to work there. They started to put us to work there. What they had to do. They were going to give us work there, anything they had to do there. Then they gave us a shovel and had us there working with the shovel two to three days. And from there to thin beets. We finished the thinning. And once we finished the beets, they put us in a trailer and took us to work elsewhere for other farmers.

TM: But this is in Montana, though?

LM: In Montana, in Montana.

TM: But how did you come to Tulare? Because this project is about Tulare County.

LM: They brought us from over there. We were over there and it was snowing. So when the beets got covered by the snow they put us in a train. And when we got out the farmers gave a letter to each of us for immigration. So they put us in a train. And then we told them we wanted to go to Mexico and they said, "No," that they were going to bring us to California. They brought us all to California and got us out in Lemon Cove and we started to work there on the farm. The farm where there was a packing house.

TM: When was this exactly?

LM: In ’43.

TM: Oh, this was in ’43?

LM: In ’43.

TM: In 1943?

LM: Yeah.

TM: Okay. But explain how you signed up for the bracero program? Did you explain how? Did you get a contract or how is it that you came?

LM: We all came as braceros. Because once they brought us as braceros, we were just to do according to their conditions. Go over here, go over there.

TM: I wanted to know how you heard about the program, how you got into it to begin with. You said "they." Who are "they" who brought you and how did you get into it at all?

LM: They were hiring in the capital of Mexico . I lived there then, in the capital of Mexico . And they started hiring people. And when they started hiring people, they said they wanted hard-working people. So they started asking for people from Michoacan because they said that we are very hard working people there.

TM: What kind of work were you doing in Mexico before you signed up for this?

LM: I used to work at -- at a factory that made cones for ice cream.

TM: So the contractors signed you up?

LM: Yes, yes.

TM: But how did you hear about the contractors? Was it in the news; was it on the radio? Did you hear it from other people?

LM: Yes, the news, the radio and all that. Yeah. The news and the radio said they needed people in the United States and all that. And they said we were leaving on the 15th. We left Mexico on the 15th of May to come to the United States .

TM: And so you came to the United States by train?

LM: Yes.

TM: Okay. To Montana?

LM: Yes, to Montana.

TM: And there you worked and then you came to California?

LM: When we finished the work in Montana, then they put us in a train and brought us to California.

TM: When you signed the contract, do you remember for how long it was? Was it for a certain amount of time? Was it for a year or for as long as the work lasted? What kind of contract was it?

LM: No. Well, they would not give us a contract. They would just bring us. They hired us in the state of Mexico . We were just coming to work. Yeah.

TM: So, when you came to Tulare County, what kind of work did they put you to do?

LM: Right away to pick oranges.

TM: And what did they pay you and did they provide housing? How was that all arranged?

LM: No. They brought us. When we were in Montana they gave us housing. They gave us everything. So when we were brought here it was the same thing. They brought us to Lemon Cove. They put us to work at the packinghouse. Yeah.

TM: And what kind of housing was it? Was it like, you know --

LM: A big hall with many beds.

TM: So, like a dormitory, you were like in the Army, many men sleeping together? And what about food? Did you have to go and do the shopping and cook the food and everything?

LM: No, we didn’t have to buy anything. The farmer would bring us food. The farmer would make the food for all of us and everything.

TM: During the war, you know, people who lived here had food stamps. You didn't have to worry about that, the "ranchero" had to?

LM: No, no, no, not at all. The farmer would give us food and all that.

TM: And they paid you in cash?

LM: What?

TM: The money.

LM: Yeah.

TM: And how was your social life? I mean, there were all these young men living together.

LM: We all knew each other. We came from the same town. We grew up together. That’s why we all knew each other. We all came to work.

TM: And how long a day did you work or how long a week? What were your hours, you know?

LM: They would give us -- the farmer would give us piecework in thinning. And then after thinning, weeding. And after we would finish, we would work for other farmers when the season of the beets would come.

TM: What would you do for fun?

LM: Huh?

TM: After work or when you didn’t have to work.

LM: We didn’t have recreation.

TM: Oh, that must have been hard.

LM: Yes. There was a town called "Corrales" (Caruthers.) We would go for a stroll a little. The farmers would take us because it was near. They would take us walking.

TM: Okay. I don’t know exactly how to phrase this, but you know, of life in the United States , for example, Japanese internment camps and stuff. What were race relations like here? Or were you aware of any kind of feelings towards you or you towards them? Americans, I mean. Did you have feelings about that?

LM: No. It’s just that the Japanese were in camps. They had them in camps.

TM: Yeah. But I mean relations towards you, feelings and behavior towards you. How did they treat you?

LM: They would look at us fine. Very well. Very well. They provided an interpreter for us when we arrived here. They provided an interpreter for us, when they would take us to work and all that. What the farmer needed, he would interpret for us and all that.

TM: Okay. Did you communicate with your family in Mexico ? And how would you communicate with them?

LM: The thing is that I would write to them. I would write to Mexico . It’s just that at that time, when we were coming here from Montana, my father died.

TM: And so did you get to go home for the funeral?

LM: No, I was not able to. I was not able to because they would not give us permission to do anything. We were under contract to the United States .

TM: And you were here without a car or anything, right?

LM: No, no, no.

TM: I am talking about ordinary life. How did you get to the Post Office? I’m talking about all those little things. How did you get to do those ordinary things?

LM: Yes. They would take the letters to where we lived. They would bring the mail to us there.

TM: And during the war years and since I interviewed my husband, I know they had blackouts. Did you have blackouts? Of course, you were out in the country, right? Blackouts -- you know, when they had to turn out lights. Yes. Do you remember anything about that?

LM: Not there. They didn’t turn off all the lights around there because it was a big shed; one couldn’t see anything outside.

TM: And so did you stay this way working? You came in 1943?

LM: ’43, yeah.

TM: And did you stay doing this until the end of the war -- until 1945 or 1946 or did you go home and then come back every year? Or how did you do that?

LM: No, I didn’t leave, I didn’t leave at all.

TM: So the contract or whatever you signed was for whatever long it was, not for so many years or so much time?

LM: The contract we had was indefinite.

TM: Oh, so it was an indefinite contract for however long?

LM: Because they had us working everywhere so -- well, we couldn’t do anything. Then around the end of ’43 I started coming to have fun here in Visalia. Where we were, they would not give us much work so I started to work on my own.

TM: So you could get out of the contract? [To BH: Is that what he just said?] You said you got out of the contract?

LM: Yes.

TM: Oh, so you had not promised to work in one place with just one farmer?

LM: No, no, with the letter they gave us we could work anywhere [BH clarification].

TM: Oh. And did you find the life here very hard? I mean, did it seem to you that you were working harder or worse than you were in Mexico ?

LM: No, because I -- I started working hard. It’s the same here as over there.

TM: And were you able to earn money to send money home to your family?

LM: Oh, yes, I would send them money.

Tm: Okay. And what if somebody had come and was very unhappy, would that person have been able to go back?

LM: Back to Mexico ? Oh, yes, yes, when we were coming, when they put us in the train, we told them that we wanted to go to Mexico once we had fulfilled our contract over there in Montana. We wanted to go to Mexico . But they said, "No." There was no train to Mexico , only to California. There was a train to California. That’s when they brought us here.

TM: And was it a nice train? Somebody once told me that they were transported in cattle cars. Was it a nice train, a passenger train?

LM: It was a passenger train, a regular train, like a bus. Something like that.

TM: And how long did the train from Montana to Lemon Cove take?

LM: It took us a whole night and then part of a day. In Colorado the train got stuck because of the snow. They had to connect another engine to get the train cars unstuck.

TM: So when you first came, it was autumn or something and you were going through Colorado when it was autumn and cold? Did you come with the right clothes?

LM: Only the clothes we had where we were; we were brought right away to California.

TM: Do you remember; is there anything about the bracero part and the working part that I didn’t ask that I should have asked because you would like to say it?

LM: Well, we, the braceros, we were like -- how could I say -- two or three companions as braceros. We would help each other. [BH request to repeat.] We used to get together, two or three of us in a town. We would be together all the time.

TM: Do you remember the end of the war and how you heard about it and what people did?

LM: Well, I was here. I was here already when the war ended.

TM: Here in Tulare County?

LM: Here in Tulare County. I came here in ’43. Yeah.

TM: So what did you hear -- how did you hear about the end of the war and what did people do? Was there any celebration?

LM: Well, I heard. When the war ended and they came back, I would only gather with boys from the war, the boys that came back from the war. And they would tell me their stories and how things had gone for them. And that’s all I know. The boys that came back from the war would celebrate all the time and I would celebrate with them.

TM: Was there much celebration? Did you yourself feel there was a need to celebrate? And then what happened for you to stay? Because you were supposed to come here and stay during the war; how did you happen to stay afterward?

LM: Well, why I stayed here was because I married Junior’s mother,

Evangeline Rios. I got married. Once I married, here I stayed.

TM: What was the paperwork and all that kind of stuff that you had to do for that? Or was there anything that one had to do?

LM: When I got married, I got married here. Well, the only documents -- well, the resident alien form.

TM: I’m supposed to ask at least two questions. How did the war years affect your life here in Tulare County?

LM: Well, I came here at the time of the war, then the war ended. I was here then and wherever one went they would give you work because there were no people. There were no people to work. So, because I had already gotten out of the bracero program, I came to live at a house where a gentleman had already died. His name was Alfonso Bianco, an Italian. I went to live with him there. When I went to live with him there I was already married. And so the gentleman taught me how to work pruning and all that. At that time there was an all-Italian crew pruning. Then I started to work with them pruning trees. They taught me well. And well, once they taught me I was with him everywhere. I was the only Mexican in an all-Italian crew. And when Saturday would arrive we would get paid. They wanted to pay me 61 cents per hour. That’s what we would earn then. So the Italian said, "No." He said, "We pay a dollar and you will pay him a dollar." They paid me a dollar, too, yeah.

TM: And the second important question is, how do you think that the World War II years affected the way Tulare County is now?

LM: How what?

TM: How is Tulare County different today because of World War II?

LM: It’s different today because it all passed and things became normal. At that time in ’43, when I was here, everything was rationed. Gas was five cents a gallon. You could not distribute the food and all because it was all tied up.

TM: [To LM Jr.] Since this is a family sort of tape for you just as much as for our library, is there anything you would like to ask him that you would like him to talk about that you think would be good to have? I didn’t prepare any more. Is there anything that you would like to talk about the war years that I didn’t ask?

Is there anything about the war years that you would like to talk about that I didn't ask about those years and your life here?

LM: Well, my life here -- at that time I went to work because I asked for an immigration card and I went to work for a farmer. His name was -- what was his name? So I went to work for them and they gave me some papers for me to obtain immigration papers. I sent it to the INS and they gave me my card. That’s how I got my papers. I was working for that company. We were working only Japanese fields. The Americans were cultivating the Japanese ranches/farms. They were farming those.

TM: Were you happy during those years when you were here? Do you feel that the whole thing had a positive effect on your life?

LM: Overall, good. Oh, yes. Overall, it was good because I had my family and married again. I like to work. Immigration said they did want to support people. So because they were saying that, they wanted me to get stamps. I said no. I was working. I never asked them for anything.

TM: I can’t think of any questions. [To LM Jr. and BH] Neither can you?

Have I covered this pretty well? Thank you very much, Mr. Medina.

[Discussion regarding further questions, then end of recording.]

Tania Martell/ Translated and Transcribed by Ben Hernandez/ Formatted by Colleen Paggi/ Edited by JW 12-3-04

Words in italics were added, for the most part, during an interview with Luis Medina Jr. on February 1, 2006.

[1] Luis Medina Jr., son of Luis Medina